Long Range Shots
by Darren Choate
I watched my neighbor pull into his driveway, as he returned from his Arizona Coues deer hunt. I had hunted the same area a few years ago and was interested how he did. So I walked over and asked, “Well, how’d you do?”
“I shot a nice buck. And, after a long pause, added “at 600 plus yards!”
“Wow, that’s a more than a mere poke,” I said.
I offered him the standard “congrats!” and a handshake, and then we chatted about the hunt for a few minutes. Eventually, I learned that the shot was romanticized just a bit. The shot was taken at over 1,000 yards, but it took several shots before the buck finally hit the ground. On the way back to the house, I contemplated the shot. I have to admit; I have fantasized about taking similar shots at big game, but I have also struggled with the ethics of doing so. Personally, I have never taken a shot at a big game animal over 300 yards—not because I wouldn’t—but because the opportunity never arose. I have been with others that have taken longer shots, and they did so because that was the shot opportunity. Still, it wasn’t 1,000+ yards.
I wanted to know how other hunters felt about the ethics of long-range shots, so I did a little research. A quick web search provided an immediate, but complicated answer. Although there is some middle ground, hunters are either radically pro or con. Right off the bat, I came across contrasting quotes such as, “No one is justified in taking shots longer than 400 yards with any hunting rifle or cartridge!” and, “My personal accuracy standard in the field is the ability to shoot three shots from a clean cold barrel into a five-inch group or less at 550 yards!” These two statements alone show the stark contrast of opinions on the topic.
The “nay-sayers” are quick to declare long-range shots as unethical, and describe long-range shooters as snipers, not hunters. Their first argument: at extreme distances there are too many factors to overcome to make a clean kill, and do it repeatedly. Therefore, there is a high probability of missing completely or wounding an animal in the process. Additionally, they argue that these “snipers” are taking long-range shots because they lack the skills necessary to stalk in for a closer shot.
The advocates of long-range shooting can provide counter-points to address each argument. Their theory: if the hunter can relax and prepare for a shot, the shooter can overcome the adrenaline rush or “buck fever,” and execute a more perfect shot. They also point out that it’s just as conceivable that a hunter could make a poor shot trying to execute a snap-shot at 50 yards. Lastly, they point out that in some cases a hunter can only get so close; adding the ability to make longer shots to your repertoire makes you a more skilled hunter.
Thoughts on Long Shots
As hunters, we have to admit that the technology for long-range shots exists. Think about it; the latest and greatest from firearms manufacturers are short magnums and hybrid calibers designed specifically for flat-shooting trajectories; and, therefore, the capability of taking longer shots. Additionally, optics companies make riflescopes with ballistic reticles and adjustable turrets modeled after military equipment to top off these “wildcat” cartridges. The same optics companies make laser rangefinders that effectively measure distances well past 1,000 yards.
In my book, long-range shots can be ethical as long as the focus is making the shot, not taking the shot. There is no place for “machismo” when it comes to taking a shot at a big game animal! Above all else, we must take shots that are within our personal comfort zone. If you haven’t practiced and perfected the shot in the controlled environment of the range, there’s little chance you can make it in the field.
Lastly, and most importantly a hunter has to ensure a safe shot! A hunter must not forget the early lessons learned in hunters’ education—to be sure of the target, and beyond. Moreover, since technology has changed, our hunting and shooting practices need to be amended. When shooting at extreme distances, the hunter must take into account what is between them and the target by identifying all potential bystanders and other hunters.
In my opinion, if you can safely make the shot, then take the shot. If you cannot safely make the shot, then get closer or pass and wait for a better opportunity at your quarry.
Darren is the Founder of Western Whitetail. Prior to his career in the outdoors, Darren served as an Airman in the US Air Force. As a freelancer, his articles have been published online and featured in magazines such as Western Whitetail, Western Hunter, Quality Whitetails, Cabela’s Outfitter Journal, Fur-Fish-Game, and Rocky Mountain Game & Fish Magazine. Additionally, Darren spent time as the Editor In Chief of Whitetail Journal, Bowhunting World, Predator Xtreme, Archery Business, and Hunting Retailer magazines with Grand View Outdoors. He is a voting member and supporter of the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA). Although he lives in elk and Coues country, Darren enjoys hunting across the country and writing about his experiences.